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By allilopez

When people think about Brazil, the last thing that comes to mind is a person of Asian descent. What most people do not know is that Brazil (and São Paulo in particular), is home to 1.5 million people of Japanese descent. This means that Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. In addition, there are 500,000 more people of non-Japanese East Asian ancestry (i.e. Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, etc.).

This has meant that after 100 years of immigration, Brazil has absorbed many aspects of East Asian culture. Granted although these 2 million people of East Asian descent only make up 1% of Brazil’s total population, they are nonetheless an important and influential component of it.

...continue reading "Blog #9: A Buddhist Temple in São Paulo"

By allilopez

Although my time here in Brazil is soon coming to an end, I wanted to reflect upon and talk about what it is like to study in a university in Brazil, since I neglected to address it earlier in the semester. The Brazilian university structure and its bureaucracy is vastly different from its American counterpart. Even though I only studied at a Brazilian university for one semester, I can safely say I prefer the American university system. Nonetheless, it was an enriching experience which exposed to some of the hurdles and problems my Brazilian counterparts go through.

...continue reading "Blog #8: Life in a Brazilian University"

By allilopez

I realized that in the four months since I’ve been in Brazil I have not once mentioned soccer. If you’re a soccer fan I know what you’re thinking….that my negligence of the topic is almost criminal since it is the Brazilian national pastime. However, never fear! Today I will finally write a blog post about ‘o jogo bonito (the beautiful game).’

About two weeks ago (Saturday, October 24), CIEE finally took us to go see a soccer game. Good thing they paid because each ticket is on average R$60 (roughly $25), which may not seem like a lot when you’re thinking in dollars, but when you think that the minimum wage here in Brazil is R$800 ($200 give or take a couple dollars), then R$60 is a LOT of money. ...continue reading "O Jogo Bonito (The Beautiful Game)"

By allilopez

Part of living or studying abroad for an extended period of time is going through the dreadful process of registering with the Brazilian Federal Police (or DPF, as it is known by its initials in Portuguese). All foreigners staying in Brazil for more than 90 days must register with the Federal Police within 30 days from the date one enters the country.

...continue reading "Blog #6: Registering with the Federal Police (Pending)"

By allilopez

Living in a foreign country is never easy and challenges always arise; Brazil is no exception. For me the biggest challenge has undoubtedly been the language barrier. Granted I am a native Spanish speaker and Portuguese and Spanish are very close to each other, but that does not mean that everything in Spanish translates perfectly into Portuguese. There are some verb tenses that exist in Portuguese that DO NOT exist in Spanish, like the dreaded future of the subjunctive which I can never seem to use properly.

Then there are those multipurpose verbs that Brazilians love to use for a variety things, but which if you translate to Spanish or English do not make sense. There are two verbs in particular which I have heard A LOT since I got to Brazil and they are used for a variety of actions; these verbs are pegar (to catch/to get) and tirar (to get). For example: pegar o ônibus (to catch the bus) or pegar a caneca (to bring/to get the mug). Then there is the verb tirar: tirar para o lado da família materna (to lean towards/to prefer one’s maternal family) or tirar uma boa nota (to get a good grade). Ironically enough you would never say tirar a caneca or pegar uma boa nota. It is quite strange actually.

Making myself understood has been a real challenge here in Brazil. The first few days were especially rough because I was ”fresh off the boat” and because I got the flu after being here a mere week. I desperately needed a box of Kleenex since I only had a small travel pack from the US and it was already running out, so I decided to go to the local supermarket. After looking around the store for over an hour and not finding any I asked one of the employees in my broken Portuguese where I could find some tissues. The only problem was that I did not know what the Portuguese word for ‘tissues’ was. I resorted to using three different words in three different languages -pañuelos (Spanish), Kleenex (English), and tissus (French)- none of which elicited a positive response from the salesperson.

After struggling for ten minutes I finally remembered that I had the pack of Kleenex in my purse. I quickly whipped it out and desperately pointed to it. “Ahhh! Você precisa lenções de papel, ‘ta. Eles estão no corridor 9. (Ohhh! You are looking for tissues, right? They are in aisle 9.)” I did an inner face palm because I should have looked up the Portuguese word for “tissues” before leaving the house. This language barrier, however, has had a bright side: out of pure necessity I have learned words that are not usually taught in Portuguese language classes. On top of that, the funny anecdotes regarding particular situations have made it easier to remember these newly-learned words. In the end, my Portuñol (the mixture of Spanish and Portuguese) is slowly but surely evolving into Portuguese.

Tchau gente! Até a próxima! (Bye everyone! Until next time!)

By allilopez

The on-site orientation for CIEE’s Liberal Arts in São Paulo took place over a course of two days. It began on July 2nd with the Resident Coordinator, Christiane, picking us up at Guarulhos International Airport. As I mentioned in my previous post, this was followed by lunch at a delicious restaurant called Segredos de Minas and a walk on Avenida Paulista. From there we took a bus to CIEE’s office in Perdizes were Ana Luiza, the Resident Director, talked about academic life in Brazil and public transportation in São Paulo – which I found really helpful.

You see, American universities are drastically different than their Brazilian counterparts. Unlike in the U.S., Brazilian students spend only part of their day at their university. Many of them work during the day and go to school in the evening or vice-versa. Consequently, the social life of young Brazilians tends to take place outside of the university. Moreover, the structure and length of classes in Brazil is very different: classes meet once per week but last 3-4 hours. The professor may not expect papers about every text students have to read; but he/she may expect the students to do ALL the readings for every class. As such, classes may just be discussions and professors often just give a mid-term and a final.

As far as public transportation is concerned, CIEE talked to us about the bilhete único, a rechargeable card similar to DC’s SmartTrip card. However, unlike in DC, all one-way tickets (regardless of distance) for the bus or the subway cost R$3,50; you can take up to 4 buses in 3 hours pay only R$3,50, which is awesome for broke college students like me! Furthermore, if you take both the metro and a bus you only pay R$ 5,45. One more important transportation tip which CIEE gave us was that we should take taxis at night as a safety precaution.

The first part of the on-site orientation ended at 7pm. Afterwards, we went to dinner at a fancy pizza place nearby called Bendita Hora (which I mentioned in my last blog!). The next day, we had breakfast at our hostel and headed back to CIEE’s office for the second part of the on-site orientation. This time Ana Luiza talked about Brazilian culture, our prospective host families, and general safety tips.

For me, the part about Brazilian culture was nothing new since cultural norms tend to be the same throughout Latin America: i.e. how people greet each other, personal interactions, the respect and civility that is expected when you are in someone else’s home, etc. The most important tip I can give non-Latin readers that are hoping to study abroad in Brazil or elsewhere in Latin America is as follows: Brazilians (and Latin people in general) may say one thing and mean another.

In Latin cultures, people are not as direct and straight-forward as in America so this cultural norm may be done so as not to hurt someone’s feelings or create any awkward situations. For example, when your host parents say ‘Make yourself at home. Don’t worry about anything,’ what they really mean is ‘We welcome you as our guest but please be respectful of our house and our rules.’ Be patient and keep an open mind when dealing with Brazilians and other Latin people as our cultural norms are a bit different than those in America.

That’s it for now gente (everyone)! Até a próxima! (Until next time!)

allianz parque
View of Allianz Parque soccer stadium from my bedroom

Saturday, July 4th began quite differently for me than it had before. Unlike last year, this year I was not spending Independence Day on the National Mall with my family watching the 4th of July fireworks and the Capitol Fourth concert. Instead, the day began with my host dad, João, picking me up from the Bee W. Hostel. As we were driving home all I could think was: “Where in the world am I?” It was only my third day in Brazil and everything was just so overwhelming.

After driving for about twenty minutes, we pulled up to an apartment building next to Allianz Parque, the stadium where the Palmeiras soccer team -one of the four professional soccer teams in São Paulo- plays. As soon as I walked in, my host mom, Marilene, greeted me with a big hug and a big kiss, “Oi querida! Tudo bem? Seja bem-vinda a nossa casa e por favor fique à vontade!(Hi darling! How are you? Welcome to our home. Please make yourself at home!)” Not far behind her was DJ, their pet dog, who also greeted me with affection.

As I was starving, I quickly dropped my bags off in my room and the three of us sat down to eat a delicious lunch: passion fruit juice with escondidinho, a shepherd’s pie-like dish from Northeast Brazil which is made with carne-de-sol (dried meat) and is covered with a yuca purée and quiejo coalho (a type of white, firm cheese produced in Northeastern Brazil). Needless to say I devoured everything on my plate and even helped myself to seconds.

Picture of DJ, my host family's pet Lhasa, napping

The apartment where my host parents live is located on the second floor and has three bedrooms, a large living room, a kitchen, and two bathrooms, one which is more an emergency bathroom with a toilet rather than a full bathroom –this is very common in apartments throughout Latin America.

Although I only live with my host parents and DJ, Marilene’s mom, Vó Josefa (Grandma Josefa) and João’s mom, Vó Maria (Grandma Maria) often come over to take care of the house and of Rafaela, my host parents’ five-year old granddaughter. Rafaela’s parents, Fernando (one of Marilene’s two grown sons) and his wife, Noelle, often come to visit as well.

The next day I woke up late and was awakened by the sound of my host mom making tapioca –a crepe-like flatbread made from cassava flour- for breakfast. Since my host mom’s mother – Vó Josefa- is from the Northeastern state of Bahia where tapioca is originally from, my host mom makes tapioca quite often.

To make tapioca, you put the white, cassava flour in a pan on low heat and spread out as if you were making a pancake. You leave the flour there for two minutes or until the flour starts to congeal into a sort of pancake. The tapioca does not brown too much and if you leave it on the stove for too long it might actually get burned. Afterwards, you flip the tapioca over and fill it with the filling of your choice –be it salty or sweet. Once you put the filling in, you fold the tapioca in half and let it cook and seal for a minute or two. Violá! You have yourself a tasty, glutten-free breakfast or snack. On that particularly my host mom filled the tapioca with cheese and turkey ham but the next day when Vó Josefa came over, she made me tapioca Bahian-style: with condensed milk and shredded coconut. It was absolutely delicious but the combination of the condensed milk and the coconut left me in a sugar comatose.

Well that’s all for now galera (y’all). Até a próxima! (Until next time!)

Hand sculpture at the Memorial da América Latina

Oi gente! Too many events have occurred during my first week here to put into one blog post (I have gone out more in one week here in Sampa than I do in a whole month in DC) and I don’t want to bore anybody to death by making a laundry list. So I’ll try to fill you in on the events and sites that really stood out for me from that first week. Let me forewarn you that in this blog and most of my blogs in general, I will talk A LOT about food so please forgive me if I make you hungry.

As you might recall from my first blog post, I arrived one day before the scheduled start of my program –CIEE Liberal Arts in Sao Paulo- as a precaution against any setbacks (i.e. flight delays).  The next day, July 2nd, I took the shuttle from the airport to meet up with the Resident Coordinator and the other students who would be participating in the program. I had no problem finding the group and after two hours (we were waiting for everybody in the group to arrive) we departed on a bus CIEE had rented towards the Bee W. Hostel, a hostel off Avenida Paulista where we stayed for the next two days –the duration of the on-site orientation.

We had about an hour to rest and were treated to lunch (by CIEE of course) at a restaurant next door called Segredos de Minas, which serves typical Brazilian from the state of Minas Gerais. As some of you might know, Brazil is a country blessed with an infinite variety of fruits and vegetables that are unknown in other parts of the world, so there is a wide variety of delicious fruit juices to sample. It was here at Segredos de Minas that for the first time I tried cajá juice, and let me tell you, I am absolutely in love with it! This juice is made from a fruit called cajá which tastes like the fruit lovechild of a passion fruit and a mango – it is quite glorious and I recommend you guys try it if you’re ever in Brazil.

After stuffing our faces with delicious Brazilian food we walked off some of the calories on Avenida Paulista, which is the Brazilian equivalent of New York’s Fifth Avenue. To say it is huge is a gross understatement: one million people pass by it every single day. The architecture of the buildings on Paulista is pretty varied: you can find anything from tall, glass high-rises to modern Brazilian architecture (best embodied by the MASP museum). However, by far my favorite building on Paulista is the Casa das Rosas (House of Roses) – it is the only remaining mansion on Avenida Paulista from Brazil’s coffee era (1800-1903). Originally, Avenida Paulista was built to house the mansions of the wealthy Paulistano (people from the city of São Paulo) coffee barons. However, over the years, these beautiful mansions were torn down to make space for high rises and the only mansion still standing is the Casa das Rosas, which is now a museum and cultural center.

We finished the day off by dining at a local pizzeria called Bendita Hora. Unlike the average American pizzeria, Bendita Hora serves both salty AND sweet pizzas. Yes you heard me…SWEET PIZZAS. We tried two different pizzas: pumpkin pizza and chicken pizza and finished off with the delicious Aphrodite pizza (what an appropriate name!) which consisted of melted chocolate, condensed milk, and strawberries. Oh and of course a cup of Brazilian coffee (it is pretty strong and resembles a three-shot espresso) with two cubes of gelatina de pinga (little gummy cubes made with cachaça).

2015-07-05 15.19.22
Sagui at Parque da Água Branca

Fast-forward three days later to Monday, July 6th: the first day of my intensive summer Portuguese language class. Class was interesting, but long –it is three hours of Portuguese for four days a week- so I am just going to skip over that and get to the good stuff: the after-class cultural activities! Monday after class we went to the Parque da Água Branca (Whitewater Park), a multi-purpose park near my house complete with a playground for kids, an aquarium, a gazebo where you can rent books to read, and even animals like peacocks and monkeys and chickens (yes chickens) running free. Miraculously the animals don’t wander off and leave the park. Here I came across an animal called a sagui, which is a little monkey the size of a squirrel.

Our walk through the park was short as our destination was the Memorial da América Latina (Latin American Memorial), a multi-building complex constructed by Brazil’s most famous architect, Oscar Niemeyer, to honor the culture, history, and peoples of the various countries that make up Latin America. In the main square (Praça Cívica), there is a large concrete sculpture representing an open hand in vertical position, with the map of Latin America painted in red. It symbolizes Latin America’s past of oppression and its battles for freedom, with the red map as a reminder of the blood from the sacrifices that were made.

Since it was getting late and afterwards we were planning to see the rehearsals of a samba school, we decided to grab something to eat at a restaurant nearby. Our guide, Viliane took us to a restaurant called Sabores do Nordeste (Flavors of the Northeast) which specializes in food from northeastern Brazil. You guys can already guess where this is headed haha. Anyways, here I was finally able to try acarajé, a dish from the state of Bahia of West African origin which is made from black-eyed peas formed into a ball and then deep-fried in palm oil. It is then split in half and stuffed with a paste containing shrimp, ground cashews, and coconut milk. However, that was just the appetizer; since the portions were so big, my friend Nashwa and I ordered carne de sol com baião de dois -rice with black eyed peas, fried meat, cheese, and pieces of yuca- and soursop juice, which is yet another of the many fruits that can be found in this wonderful country.

Pérola Negra’s rehearsa

Finally it was time to head out to Vila Madalena to see the neighborhood’s samba school, Pérola Negra, rehearse for Carnaval. The rehearsal was not at all what I expected: I had imagined that the rehearsals would comprise of us, the audience, sitting on some bleachers watching the dancers and the musicians practice on a stage in yoga pants and sneakers. That is what most people imagine when you hear the word ‘rehersal’, right? Well, it was far from that. First of all, the warehouse where the rehearsals were being held resembled a club more than anything else. As you entered the building, there were bouncers checking people and confiscating any bottles. By the way, you also have to pay a “cover” fee like you do at clubs.

Inside there was a stage where there was a band and later a DJ playing funk carioca -a musical rhythm originating in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. Strangely enough, amidst this chaos, there were whole families -grandparents, parents, children, etc.- all partaking in this event. Some were dressed normally but others had Perola Negra t-shirts and jerseys, like one would of one’s favorite sports team. After about two hours of this, the rehearsal finally started. Most of the dancers and the musicians were already in costume as if Carnaval was tomorrow. The minority that wasn’t in costume were dressed like they were going clubbing; they had full make up on, sky high heels, and clubbing clothes on. You get the picture.

That’s all for now gente (everyone). Até a próxima! (Until next time!)

pao de quiejo
Pão de queijo: a small, cheese-flavored roll that is a popular snack and breakfast food in Brazil

Oi gente! (Hi everyone!) It’s been a little over a month since I first arrived here in São Paulo and it feels absolutely surreal! The 30th –the day I left- I was on an emotional rollercoaster, vacillating between feelings of excitement (to be embarking on this new journey), nervousness (over what awaited me), and sadness (about leaving behind my family and DC). The moments between when I entered the TSA Security Checkpoint to when I arrived to Gate C12 to board my plane are all blur. All I remember is arriving at the Gate and suddenly hearing virtually EVERYONE speaking Portuguese. I remember thinking, “Where did all these Brazilians come from??? Aside from those working for the Brazilian embassy there are few of them living in DC.”

I barely slept three hours during the nine and a half hour plane ride. The awful combination of my nerves and the small, cramped seats kept me wide awake. When we finally arrived at 9 am, I quickly made it through Customs and grabbed my bags. I was anticipating that my exit would be quick: instead it was long and mazelike. What seemed like the exit from the baggage claim was really an entrance to a bazaar-like shopping area of luxury, Duty-Free, international goods from Lindt chocolates to Victoria’s Secret lingerie to Givenchy perfumes.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally found my way out of that Duty Free tourist trap. I breathed a sigh of relief before realizing that I had yet to accomplish the daunting task of finding the shuttle to my hotel. I soon found an airport employee and in the best Portuguese I could muster I asked her where the stop for the Ibis Hotel shuttle was. To be honest, my question was more in Spanish than it was in Portuguese but somehow she managed to understand me and proceeded to direct me to the old airport terminal, which is where all the national flights land. “Obrigada (Thank you),” I told her in my heavily accented Portuguese before proceeding to cart around my luggage cases.

When I got to the old terminal, I asked the man at the information desk to direct me to the Ibis shuttle stop. With an expression of total and utter boredom, he waived his hand and pointed at a set of automatic doors that led to a street full of bus stops. To my dismay, there was no shuttle stop for the Ibis hotel shuttle anywhere in site, so I proceeded to ask another airport employee who happened to be walking by. This time, this employee directed me to the floor above where the Departures where.

For the next hour, I struggled to find the shuttle stop: everytime I asked someone, they would point me in a different direction. I was so frustrated that I finally settled on waiting on the top floor where the Departures were. Just when I was about to give up hope, a mini bus with the hotel’s logo plastered on it arrived. I quickly hopped on and buckled up for the ride.

During the bus ride to the hotel I noticed that Guarulhos, the city where the airport is located and which is part of the São Paulo metropolitan area, was poorer and underdeveloped. On some sides of the highway it was possible to see decaying factories and even what seemed like favelas in the surrounding mountains.

Thirty minutes later I finally arrived at my hotel. As I stared out the window of my room on the 14th floor so many tall, sprawling buildings. In that moment I was finally able to visualize and comprehend São Paulo’s magnitude: 12 million people lived inside the city itself and another 8 million people lived in the metropolitan area, thus making São Paulo the most populous city in Brazil, in the Americas, in the Western Hemisphere, and the twelfth largest city by population.

Throughout my struggle to find hotel’s shuttle bus, I noticed that many people had a thick accent where they pronounced the ‘r’ strongly like we do in English rather than softly as it usually is in Portuguese. I later found out that it was because most of these people were from the interior of Sao Paulo State and from the nearby state of Minas Gerais. No doubt many of them migrated here in search of better work opportunities.

When I arrived at the hotel nearly at noon, I was already starving. On the airplane they had served a light breakfast of bread, butter, and coffee –which could only do so much. Since they did not serve lunch at the hotel and the only thing they had was ham sandwiches (I do not eat pork so I could not eat the sandwich) I basically had to survive on water and Ritz crackers until dinnertime. However, it was so worth it. The feast of typical Brazilian foods in the buffet was absolutely mouth-watering. And of course the main star of these foods was pão de quiejo, a small baked, cheese-flavored roll which Brazilians love to eat ALL THE TIME. If you ever get a chance to eat it, you will see why it is a national favorite.

Well, that is it for now. Até a próxima! (Until next time!)

I've been back in the States, after leaving Brazil, for almost two weeks now, and either I am exceptionally well-adjusted or I will experience a rough bout of reverse culture shock and withdrawing in the rapidly-approaching future. Despite the whirlwind that is being home for the holidays, I have had a few opportunities to sit back and reflect on what my time in Brazil was to me.

I re-read some of the things I wrote during the extensive process of applying to my program and to scholarships, to see what I had intended to do in Brazil and to think about how my actual experience differed or didn't and why. Before arriving, with my trip still an abstract possibility, I had wanted to use my time in Brazil to examine bottom-up community development in the favelas, with a focus on the role of community centers. I had wanted to work on building homes in the favelas, to understand permanency and how communities are built physically and conceptually. I had wanted to combine my academic study at my Brazilian university with field experience and interviews culled from my contacts in the fields of community-centers-working-on-bottom-up-community-development-in-the-favelas and organizations-building-homes-as-international-volunteers-in-a-favela.

What did I find out? Easier said than done. For better or worse, for a variety of reasons, many of which--but not all, I will admit--beyond my control, I didn't really do much of what I had intended to in Brazil. I volunteered amongst the urban homeless population a few times, and had the opportunity to lay eyes on one of the small favelas in the historic center of the city as well as an urban settlement called Crackland and to meet residents of these communities. I worked within a local NGO, gaining a much deeper understanding of the organizational elements that go into the actual practice of community service. I did go to classes, and I did think a lot on my own about how my course material manifested itself in contemporary situations and problems in Brazil, but I'm not sure I applied them in practice in the streets of Brazil.

The things I did instead of my grand plans were incredible. I met amazing people, both other students and Brazilians from all walks of life--through my host family, through my volunteer experiences, through random conversations in corner bars, everywhere. I traveled, and experienced some of the most stunning places I've ever seen. I relaxed, I took it slow, and I lived a Brazilian life. The fact that my reality in Brazil was not the academic experience that I had envisioned does not devalue either of the two. I was actually living in Brazil, and through that experience, I gained a deeper sense of the Brazilian and global communities than I could have ever imagined.

There are many elements of my time there that I want to bring back with me. The pace of life, the sense of family, the honest and real love for your neighbor and for your fellow Brazilian/human. I think these lessons will improve my life and will serve to deepen my own engagement within all of my own communities and families, everywhere that I call home now and in the future.